If you are living with a short-term or long-term disability, you might qualify for Social Security disability pay through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). These disability benefits go to people who have met work history, disability, and income criteria, allowing them to pay for necessities, such as housing or medical costs.

Understanding Social Security disability benefits can be confusing for those on the program, let alone someone new to the system. The following commonly asked questions and answers can help you learn what to expect from disability insurance benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

How Does Social Security Disability Work?

Social Security disability pay is in place to assist workers who have a medical condition that prevents them from working in the capacity they used to or at all. Those who qualify for these Social Security benefits will receive a monthly benefit that they can use for anything they need to support themselves or their families.

The money that funds the Social Security Disability Insurance program comes from payroll taxes. Each worker pays into the program. Therefore, if they need SSDI later, the money is there for them to collect. This is why the program requires workers to earn a minimum number of work credits to qualify for a cash benefit if needed.

How many credits you collect depends on how much you work and earn in a year. For the 2022 work year, each worker gets a maximum of four credits when they earn $6,040.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for SSDI?

Disability benefits through the SSDI program are primarily for adults who have had a work history that qualifies them for benefits. This is based on work credits. Each worker gets up to four credits per year, depending on how much they’ve worked that year. To qualify for disability insurance, a worker usually needs at least 40 credits, with 20 of those credits earned within the 10 years prior to receiving Social Security disability income.

In addition to work history, the SSA will look at an applicant’s income to determine if they qualify based on their financial situation. In 2022, most people’s earnings from employment can’t be more than $1,350 per month to qualify for a disability payment.

Most importantly, a person qualifies based on their disability. According to the SSA, an applicant must have a medical condition that falls under the SSA’s criteria of a defined disability. The process to determine if someone’s disability is eligible includes five considerations:

  1. You’re unable to perform work that’s considered substantial gainful activity (SGA). Generally, the SSA decides whether your work is SGA based on how much you work and earn.
  2. Your condition prevents you from completing specific activities, like standing or walking, that you would need for SGA for at least 12 months.
  3. Your condition must fall within the SSA’s list of defined disabilities.
  4. Your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you used to do.
  5. If your condition prevents you from doing your previous work, but you’re unable to do other types of work to perform SGA, you could qualify for SSDI benefit pay.

Who Determines If I’m Approved for SSDI Benefits?

The Social Security Administration is ultimately responsible for deciding whether disabled workers receive SSDI benefits for their disability. However, the SSA has multiple departments to help it with its various tasks. For SSDI disability claims, the Disability Determination Service decides. Each state has its own Disability Determination Service.

When you apply for SSDI, your application will go to your state’s Disability Determination Service. You may apply through your local SSA office, which will then forward your application to the DDS for disability determination. The DDS considers your application according to the SSA’s requirements, noting whether you’re within SSDI income limits, have a qualifying disability, and have enough work credits to receive Social Security benefits.

What Is Considered Income for SSDI?

In 2022, the SSA requires most applicants to earn no more than $1,350 a month to qualify for Social Security disability benefits through the SSDI program. For blind applicants, the allowable amount is $2,260 per month.

The income that SSA counts is called earned income. Unlike other programs that count unearned income, like rental properties and investments, as part of your total resources, the SSA only looks at earned income from wages or self-employment to determine SSDI. This is because your earned income lets the SSA know how able you are to work, which is the primary consideration when making a disability determination.

So, you may have $5,000 in a retirement account and $900 a month from a rental property as income, but the SSA will only count the $1,100 per month you’re making from your job as income for SSDI determination.

How Do I Apply for SSDI?

If you prefer filling out a paper application, you can request one from your local SSA office. Fill out the forms and provide medical evidence of your disability with your claim. Return all documents and the application to your local SSA office when finished or send them by mail.

The SSA also offers phone applications, which is a good option for people who need assistance filling out their claims. The phone representative will ask all necessary questions and input your answers to send to the DDS to process your claim.

Alternatively, you may apply for SSDI online if you are 18 or older and haven’t been denied benefits within the past 60 days. First, print the Adult Disability Checklist, which will help you learn what you’ll need to provide for the application. Then, set up a mySocialSecurity account, which will give you all the digital documents you need to fill out to apply.

Can SSDI Be Used for a Short-Term Disability?

No, Social Security disability benefits are only for people with a disability that’s expected to last one year or longer. This is known as a long-term disability.

Similarly, SSDI will not pay for a partial disability. Instead, any medical condition must meet the SSA’s definition of a qualifying disability to make an applicant become an SSDI beneficiary.

With that said, you can receive short-term disability insurance through your employer or health insurance company and still qualify later for SSDI should your condition worsen to the point of becoming a long-term disability.

If you’re unsure of what you might qualify for or how one type of disability benefit affects another, you should consider consulting with a disability lawyer to help you.

How Long Do I Have to Wait for a Decision?

In most cases, you may need to wait 3-5 months for a disability determination from the SSA. This waiting period is just for the application review process in which the Disability Determination Service reviews your claim and medical evidence to help the SSA make a decision.

After you’re approved, you’ll need to wait another five months before you can begin receiving payments. The SSA has this five-month waiting period in place for most claimants, allowing their payments to begin on the sixth full month of disability.

For instance, let’s say you applied on November 1st, 2021, and the SSA approved your claim on March 1st, 2022. Your first payment will be for August 2022 because that will be your sixth full month of disability. Because the SSA pays for a month the following month, you’d receive your first payment in September 2022.

What Are Compassionate Allowances?

Compassionate allowances (CAL) are a form of disability compensation given to people with special medical circumstances. A compassionate allowance lets a disability claimant receive funds quicker through a speedier approval process based on their condition. This process is usually reserved for people with conditions that the SSA can quickly verify, such as certain types of cancers or brain disorders.

When a person files for Social Security disability benefits, the DDS determines whether that person qualifies for compassionate allowance based on their condition. Usually, this is done through digital screenings that flag certain conditions that may qualify for a compassionate allowance. If so, the usual waiting times to begin receiving benefits won’t apply. Still, the person must meet the same rules as non-CAL claimants when the DDS decides whether their disability qualifies as a disability for compensation.

What Are Quick Disability Determinations?

Quick disability determinations (QDD) are similar to compassionate allowances in that they can speed up the process of deciding whether someone qualifies for Social Security disability pay. Using modern technology, the SSA can screen applications to find specific wording and conditions that indicate whether someone could be eligible for benefits. Those applications then move through the QDD system to get approved quicker.

This could reduce the amount of time you need to wait to get approval or denial. Even if your claim ends in denial, you can use that decision to begin the appeals process. In most cases, you could receive a decision in just a few days or weeks rather than the 3-5-month wait time SSI benefits claims typically take to process.

How Much Does SSDI Pay?

SSDI pay differs between recipients, depending on how much they’ve earned from employment or self-employment up to the time they became disabled. In 2019, the SSA paid an average of $1,234 to disabled workers every month. However, those benefits can increase or decrease based on your average lifetime earnings. Generally, the more you earn throughout your life, the higher your benefit will be.

Fortunately, your disability has no bearing on how much you make from SSDI benefits. In other words, more severe disabilities do not pay more than less severe disabilities.

You may need to wait several months after applying for SSDI benefits to receive your first month’s compensation. However, some people may also begin receiving SSDI back pay if they qualify for disability benefits several months before being approved.

Is SSI the Same as Social Security Disability?

No. SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income. SSI does not require people to have Social Security credits from working, but it does require people to have a qualifying disability and limited income. Adults and children with disabilities may qualify for SSI.

Which Pays More, SSI or SSDI?

SSI is an income-based program, so the amount your household earns can affect how much you get each month. In contrast, SSDI is based on how much you’ve earned throughout your lifetime, so these benefits typically pay more than SSI benefits.

In 2022, the average SSI payout for individuals is $841 a month, while SSDI pays, on average, $1,358 per month.

Can I Work While Getting Social Security Disability Benefits?

Yes. To an extent, individuals qualifying for Social Security disability benefits may work. However, the SSA caps the amount that people can earn before they’re considered able to maintain substantially gainful activity. In 2022, that amount is $1,350 for most people and $2,260 for blind people. You can have a job while applying for benefits or after you begin receiving benefits.

The SSA also may help you get back to work in a way that won’t interrupt your benefits. Some beneficiaries can qualify for a work trial period to determine whether they’re able to participate in SGA.

What Is an Extended Period of Eligibility?

Suppose an SSDI beneficiary decides they’d like to try to return to work and do so with the help of the SSA’s work trial period. In that case, they may qualify for an extended period of eligibility (EPE) for 36 months after their work trial ends.

The EPE protects SSDI benefits when a person returns to work. During this time, the beneficiary must track and report their earnings to the SSA. A beneficiary gets a three-month grace period of payments when the SSA first determines that their income extends into substantial gainful activity. For the rest of the EPE, you’ll get an SSDI check only for the months in which the SSA determines you qualify for one based on your SGA income.

Are Social Security Disability Benefits Taxable?

Social Security disability benefits usually are not taxable on their own. However, recipients who earn other income or have other household members may need to pay taxes. Usually, this happens if they earn over a specific threshold for the year.

Tax filing statuses play a role in whether your benefits are taxable, too. Single and head of household filers may have a portion of their benefits taxed if their income and one-half of their SSDI benefits exceed $25,000 a year. Married and filing jointly filers may have their benefits taxed if one-half of their benefits plus their other income exceeds $32,000 a year.

The best way to determine whether your Social Security disability income will get taxed is to use the IRS calculator.

Can I Receive Social Security Disability Benefits and Retirement Benefits At the Same Time?

No, beneficiaries do not receive Social Security disability benefits and retirement benefits simultaneously. This is because Social Security disability benefits change into retirement benefits automatically once a person reaches retirement age.

The only exception to this is when a person files for early retirement before reaching full retirement age and later becomes approved for SSDI. In this case, the person could receive SSDI and retirement benefits until they reach full retirement age.

However, some people do receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and retirement benefits at the same time if their unearned income from retirement does not make them go over the income threshold for SSI. As of January 2022, the average retirement benefit from the SSA was $1,614 per month.

How Long Do SSDI Benefits Last?

In most cases, SSDI benefits last until a person reaches the full retirement age of 65, which is when retirement benefits begin, or until they are no longer disabled. The SSA may mark some cases in which medical conditions are expected to improve as needing continuing reviews. These cases will require beneficiaries to answer questions and provide medical evidence that their disability is still a qualifying condition for benefits.

If the SSA determines a person is no longer disabled based on its criteria, they can terminate benefits. Beneficiaries may file an appeal to reverse the decision and continue receiving benefits, but this is not guaranteed.

Beneficiaries who have conditions that are not expected to improve may still need to complete reviews every 5-7 years.

What Is SSDI Back Pay?

Some people who qualify for monthly payments through SSDI may have had to wait several months to over a year to get approved. If the SSA determines that a person was disabled for that whole waiting time, that person could receive SSDI back pay. This pays for the months during which the person was disabled minus the five-month waiting period for benefits to start.

Example:

  1. You applied for benefits on May 1st, 2020.
  2. The SSA approved your claim on May 1st, 2021, but considered you disabled since May 1st, 2020.
  3. As a result, you’re eligible for the 11 months you waited for approval, minus the five-month required waiting period.
  4. Therefore, you could get six months of back pay from the SSA.

In many cases, the SSA pays back pay within 60 days of claim approval. Your disability lawyer fees, if you have one, will likely come out of this lump sum, too.

Can I Get SSI and SSDI At the Same Time?

Yes, some individuals may qualify for and receive SSI and SSDI at the same time. These two forms of Social Security disability can pay simultaneously when someone is eligible for both programs.

However, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance will decrease the amount Supplemental Security Income pays. In many cases, the amount someone is eligible to receive via SSDI will decrease SSI payments to a very low amount or nothing.

What Is a Disability Update Report?

A Disability Update Report is a required part of the SSA review process that federal law enacts. The report asks questions and may require medical information to help the SSA determine whether you still qualify for benefits.

The SSA will notify you when you’re required to complete your report for review. You can mail your completed report to your local Social Security office or submit it online.

What Happens If My SSDI Claim Is Denied?

When a Social Security Disability Insurance claim gets denied, you have the option to appeal the decision. The SSA’s denial letter will explain the steps you can take to appeal your decision.

Sometimes, all that’s necessary is sending in more medical evidence that supports your claim. However, beneficiaries can also choose a reconsideration, which asks the SSA to review your claim again.

You may also ask for an appeal, which sends your case to an administrative law judge and court hearing. You can hire a disability lawyer to represent and assist you at any step of the appeals process.

Do I Need a Disability Lawyer?

A disability attorney isn’t necessary for anyone filing a Social Security disability claim. However, having a lawyer can be very beneficial for your case.

Disability lawyers can assist you with completing your application, gathering medical evidence, submitting any extra documentation, and filing an appeal, if necessary. They can also be a source of support as you navigate the system to help you better understand each step of the process.

Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits

SSDI and SSI are two programs offered by the Social Security Administration for people with disabilities. Adults and children can be eligible for SSI, but only people with enough work credits can qualify for SSDI. Each program is designed to help people with disabilities afford housing, clothing, food, and other daily necessities.

The SSA’s application for disability benefits covers both SSI and SSDI. Therefore, you only need to complete one application to apply for both. The SSA uses that information to automatically determine whether you qualify for both benefits based on your disability, income, work credits, and other information.

Consider hiring a disability lawyer if you feel overwhelmed by the process or believe your case could be challenging to get approved. In many cases, you won’t need to pay an attorney until the SSA begins paying you benefits.